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What is Parvovirus?

Parvovirus is a hardy, highly contagious, often deadly virus that’s spread through the feces of infected dogs. It attacks the intestinal tract and white blood cells causing symptoms such as bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Although all ages of dogs can be affected, puppies and juvenile dogs are most vulnerable to severe symptoms. The virus can affect most members of the dog family (wolves, coyotes, foxes).

There are several strains of canine parvovirus. The latest one is parvovirus type 2c (CPV-2c) first detected in 2000 in Italy.


How does a dog get Parvovirus?

Dogs become infected through oral contact with the virus in feces, infected soil/environment, or contaminated items such as kennel surfaces, food and water bowls, leashes, toys. The incubation period is 3 – 7 days. In surviving dogs, the virus may be shed for 2 – 3 weeks after they were infected. The virus is shed in feces, saliva and vomit.


What are the symptoms of Parvovirus?

Dogs with Parvovirus are very depressed and off food. They are nauseous, vomiting and have diarrhea which is usually bloody. Abdominal pain and dehydration quickly follow. The virus also attacks white blood cells making dogs susceptible to secondary infection. In very young puppies the virus can damage the heart muscle.


Is there a test for Parvovirus?

Yes, there is a fecal test that your veterinary clinic can run. Also, white blood cells need to be evaluated. These tests are very important to differentiate from other common diseases in puppies such as foreign body obstruction or intussusception (where part of the intestine slides into an adjacent part of the intestine creating an obstruction).


Do we have Parvovirus in Alberta?

Yes. Parvovirus infections, often called Parvo enteritis, are seen across Canada and the US.  

Parvovirus can survive in the soil for long periods of time, 1 year or longer. The virus is resistant to heat, cold, humidity and drying. Bleach is the most effective disinfectant.


How do I protect my dog from Parvovirus?

Because Parvovirus is a life-threatening disease, vaccination is very important. Puppies receive some immunity from their mothers’ milk but to maintain protection a series of vaccinations are necessary. Your veterinarian can recommend a vaccination strategy to protect your dog.

There are titers available that measure the dog’s level of antibodies against the canine parvovirus, but the antibody level may not directly translate to protection if the dog is exposed to the virus. Ask your veterinarian about a recommended prevention program for your dog.

Until puppies have received the complete series of vaccinations, owners should take care in having puppies exposed to other dogs. Choose a puppy training class, groomer or kennel where vaccinations are required for all dogs.

There is no specific treatment for the virus. For infected dogs, supportive treatment includes IV fluids and electrolytes; drugs to control vomiting, diarrhea and prevent secondary infections; plasma transfusions are sometimes necessary. Infected dogs must be housed in isolation. Dogs can die even with treatment, so vaccination is key.

Prevention of infection includes good hygiene and isolation of infected dogs. Speak to your veterinary team for help for your specific situation.


Can my cat get Parvovirus?

The latest strain of Parvovirus, CPV-2c, can infect cats however cats vaccinated against feline distemper will be protected.